Sciencing the Shit Out of Ark: Survival Evolved's Dinosaurs

Ark has dinosaurs and humans living together, but could that happen in real life?

It’s a common mistake to believe that all dinosaurs lived at the same time. Jurassic Park and its sequels tells us that they all could live at the same, right? Plus, dinosaurs are just so awesome that they have to have all lived together. However, many people would be surprised to know that Earth itself didn’t even look the same from the beginning of the age of dinosaurs to their ultimate extinction. At the beginning, Earth was warmer and most of today’s continents were lumped together into a single landmass called Pangaea. And by the end of the age of dinosaurs, the continents were shaped pretty much like they are today.

The game Ark: Survival Evolved drops you cold and naked on an island and expects you to live off the land. You soon find out that this isn’t a normal deserted island. You quickly find that this island is inhabited by a literal encyclopedia worth of prehistoric creatures, and unfortunately, a good portion of them want to eat you.

Just like any other nerdy little boy, I was fascinated by dinosaurs and wanted to live with them. My question for Ark is “Would it have been possible for us to live with the dinosaurs?” Let’s assume for a moment that the giant meteor didn’t hit the earth at the end of the Cretaceous period and dinosaurs continued to exist and our mammalian ancestors grew the way they did naturally. Could we be walking alongside dinosaurs today like we do in Ark? Let’s answer that question as we science the shit out of Ark: Survival Evolved.

An ever-changing world

To answer this ancient question, we have to have an understanding of where the dinosaurs came from. As historian David McCullough said in his book about some world-changing human beings, Brave Companions, “How can we know who we are and where we are going if we don't know anything about where we have come from?” That is why we not only have to look at the Mesozoic era but also the Paleozoic era.

The complexity of life at the beginning of the Paleozoic era was not complex. Some of the most complex life were sponges that simply absorbed most of its nutrients from the water around it. However, that all changed in the Cambrian period when life exploded and the oxygen levels of Earth increased dramatically. This, of course, led to new kinds of life -- predators and prey -- and eventually creatures that crawled on land. However, nearly 90% of all life was killed off at the end of this era because… well, we aren’t sure. The most accepted reason among paleontologists is a volcanic eruption, but regardless of what caused it, one of the animals that was left was a new-ish land-animal called the diapsids. These diapsids would become what we know as archosaurs which would become the dinosaurs.

There are another group of creatures that I would also like to make mention of called the synapsids. They also lived during the paleozoic era, but unlike the diapsids, these would ultimately give rise to a completely different type of animal that we call mammals.

If you look at humans today and even some of our primate relatives, you would likely see great diversity but that’s mostly because we are extraordinarily familiar with our own species. But if you look to the dinosaurs, you’ll notice a tremendous amount of diversity. This diversity allowed some of the dinosaurs to actually survive beyond the great extinction of the Mesozoic era.

A sliver of time

So to ask if we could co-exist with the dinosaurs, we could say yes because they are alive and well now. However, that avoids the greater question of there not having been a meteor at all. There are two schools of thought on this. I will call them the lizardoid agenda and the segregation hypothesis.

We homo sapiens started life about 200,000 years ago, a sliver of time when we consider how long life has existed on Earth. Our closely related ancestors have been around for about 6 million years. With dinosaurs having gone extinct roughly 65 million years ago, that gives them about 10 times the evolutionary time to become more intelligent, develop cultures, and dare I say, build a society.

However, these dinosaurs wouldn’t look anything like the dinosaurs in Ark and would likely be smarter than we are as a species. It’s most likely that we humans would have not even evolved and if we even came close, we would be equal to the cats and dogs. The lizardoids would rule the planet and humans would be an afterthought. That gives a whole new meaning to Raptor Jesus… or maybe it doesn’t…

Another plausible scenario is that humanoids and lizardoids would have evolved independently. They would still have the 60 million year jump on us, but their diversity could have stunted their dominance. However, 60 million years is still a long time. The amount of change that would have happened in that time is beyond my comprehension.

In the end, it’s possible that we could have ended up living with the dinosaurs, but it would be nothing like what we see in Ark. In fact, the more likely scenario is that we would not be riding the dinosaurs, but they would be riding us.

But like all science, it isn’t truly science until it’s retested or proven wrong. What are your thoughts? If dinosaurs wouldn’t have been hit by massive meteor, would we be the ones to ride them, like we see in Ark, or is there some other course that evolution could have taken? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Published Aug. 5th 2016
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